Deprivation in various authors

Please read the PS, but in the meantime:

Some of you may remember that my favourite Diana Wynne Jones quote is: “All power corrupts, but we need electricity.”

It’s very true. Some months ago, I wrote the following, intending to use it in a blog:

Recently our central heating failed. Our house, never the warmest, cosiest, or best insulated, has been seriously chilly. Evening activities were selected according to the sharing out of heaters between rooms, and watching TV meant serious blankets.

It’s now been fixed, but the fixing took many days, days not merely of cold, but of kitchen full of junk and complicated timetables. But mainly being cold.

Being cold has an effect on one’s whole outlook. How can I think about anything else? How can I be happy when my fingers can hardly type?

This is in reality of course a very mild form of suffering, hardly really more than inconvenience, which I should endure patiently. But I think there’s also something else. For those days I felt that a house isn’t a home if it isn’t warm. But suppose it was warm, but there was no food in it? Suppose there was food and warmth, but I had a bug and was feeling sick?

I didn’t get to use the above at the time.

Since then we’ve always been warm enough, but we’ve had two periods without internet – one lasted four days, the other 24 hours. (Our provider was doing essential work.) The extreme frustration reminded me of my thoughts on cold. (I was also aware of the irony that our church is doing a sermon series on the book “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry” by John Mark Comer, which challenges our society’s addiction to the internet, particularly social media.)

But in general whatever we don’t have at the moment, whether it’s wifi or heating, feels like the most important thing. I do not often enough pause to give thanks for the ordinary things I normally have – for example, I think I’m one of the most blessed people I know in terms of physical health, and already I live in (despite everything) one of the best-medicated times and places of history.

(“Our digestions, for instance, going sacredly and silently right, that is the foundation of all poetry… the most poetical thing in the world is not being sick.” This is from GK Chesterton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday,” another book I have praised on this blog here.

Moving the thought on, in CS Lewis’ “Prince Caspian”, the children stranded on a mysterious island eventually find a stream to drink from. “I do wish,” said Lucy, “now that we’re not thirsty, we could go on feeling as not-hungry as we did when we were thirsty.”

Whatever we have we take for granted (“For granted”: interesting expression.) Whatever we don’t have now is what matters.

This also applies in moral terms, and this brings me from Lewis to Jane Austen, and John Willoughby, the not-quite-villain of “Sense and Sensibility.”

Spoilers follow.

Willoughby is introduced like a dashing hero, literally sweeping up the damsel in distress (Marianne has sprained her ankle) and carrying her to safety. But then he behaves like a villain, dumping her brutally in order to marry someone rich. And then we find out the backstory: he needed the money because his rich but moral relative found out about his seduction of another damsel, and is cutting him off without a penny.

Hearing that Marianne is at death’s door, he races to find her, and (on being told she’s out of danger) explains himself emotionally to her sensible sister Elinor. Oh, how he regrets his foolish choices, dastardly behaviour, and unhappy marriage! Why couldn’t he have been true to Marianne?

“My intentions were not always wrong… Tell her of my misery and my penitence.”

It’s easy to be sorry for him, and indeed Elinor is.

But when she’s had time to think, she can clearly see that Willoughby is not truly repentant. He regrets his behaviour “because it has not answered towards himself. It has not made him happy.”

He now has money, and is unhappily married. “But does it thence follow that, had he married you, he would have been happy? The inconveniences would have been different. He would then have suffered under the pecuniary distresses which, because they are removed, he now reckons as nothing. He would have had a wife of whose temper he could make no complaint, but he would have been… always poor.” (My emphasis)

I think this is very acute. We do something – it doesn’t work – we regret our choice, saying we were stupid or wrong. But the other choice might also not have worked. Is this repentance, or even wisdom? Something that doesn’t work out perfectly may still have been the more sensible, or more moral, option.

Incidentally, the 1995 film of “Sense and Sensibility”, the one scripted by Emma Thompson, is one of my favourite films of all time.

Love from the PPI Blogger

PS The Ragaris Fortnight (see last week’s blog ) is now less than a week away! The videos have been filmed, although at the time of typing the posters have not yet arrived. (They now have.) It’s not too late to assist, whether by supplying a photo, reviewing a book, sticking a flyer in your window (Beeston/Chilwell) or in other ways.

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